In trying to perfect his own craft, Claude Stein found a new career. It was 1980. After years of studying classical music, Stein found himself playing the South Florida club scene, singing country and folk songs, “that pool-side tiki bar stuff,” in local bars. He wasn’t happy. He wanted to be a better singer/songwriter.
So, he went to New York City, hoping for inspiration. He took a singing for actors class for the fun of it. “All of a sudden, the acting techniques opened up more heart and musicianship in me in 20 minutes than years of study,” he said.
He was onto something. He took performance workshops, public speaking courses and leadership seminars. He went to private and group therapy to work out his stage fright. And, in trying to better his own singing, he discovered an uncanny ability to spot other performers’ mental and physical blocks.
He started teaching at the New York Actors Institute in 1983. Two years later, he created the Natural Singer workshops.
He has had no psychology training, but he knows instinctively what people need to do to let themselves, their real, inner selves, show.
“A lot of it comes from experience,” said Stein, 32. “You can train yourself to be more perceptive. Really pick up on details and have few preconceived notions about a person. The way they connect to the music and lyrics. The way they react to the audience. The stories they want to tell. It’s being a very good listener and then coming up with a fresh musical accompaniment and instruction to help move the person to the next level.”
Stein’s intuition is so refined that, during the workshops, there is the appearance of a psychic energy of sorts between him and the students.
When Hylda Rubin stood on stage, singing Lullaby of Broadway and talking about herself with a nervous bravura, Stein told her she should sing something carefree, like the child’s song, Zippity Doo Da. She begins to cry. Turns out that when Rubin was a young child, that particular song was required for an ill-fated audition that sparked an embarrasing fight between mother and daughter – the mother saying “I’ll never let you sing again” – and the daughter hadn’t sung since!
Triumphing through the sobs, Rubin sings out joyfully “…plenty of sunshine comin’ my way…”
Stein can’t explain the connection. “I just started hearing the song in my head,” he said.
The connections between teacher and student are what keep the students coming back. Stein gives the workshops about once every six weeks at the Marco Polo Resort, traveling from New York City, where he performs with a band called Carboy, to his parents’ home in Hallandale. When he is in town, he also gives private lessons. Some students even fly to New York for extra lessons.
Eventually, Stein said, he would like to have separate workshops for beginners and professionals and two-day classes. His teaching notes have grown into a three-notebook-sized manual.
He still wants a career in singing, but will never stop doing the workshops, he said, because helping others with their problems helps his own. “I love seeing the breakthroughs and watching people become more self-realized. I like to be moved,” he said.